Why (This) Team Is Better Than (Some Other) Teams: Washington Capitals

old-caps-puck.jpg

I decided the Caps need some love (they could use some non-Ovechkin offense, too, but that is beyond my powers). MYFO sure as hell hasn’t had any Caps fans clamoring to write this post. Hextall454 lives in the D.C. area; that just means he has to read about the Caps in the sports section of his Washington Times (it’s true, Hex is a right wing nutjob Moonie). That leaves me.

What qualifies me to toot the Caps’ horn? I lived in the D.C. area from 1995-2001. I attended Caps games both at the old USAir Arena and the MCI Center. I got to know, and sort of like, Kono and Bonzai and Olie the Goalie and Calle-Jo and The Chief. After the jump, I’ll tell you what the Caps have going for them in the tenth anniversary season since their lone Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

Speaking of the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals, I remember them all too well. I was in Reno on business for Game 2. After looking shaky and starry-eyed to start Game 1, the Caps had battled back against the Wings and lost 2-1. I thought they had recovered well, and other than a couple of crappy minutes in the first period, they had outplayed the Wings. I absolutely believed the Caps were ripe to take Game 2. So, during a break in meetings, I wandered down to the sports book at John Ascuaga’s Nugget to lay some coin on the Caps.

Later that night, the game was going great. The Caps lived up to my expectations, and opened up leads of 3-1, and then 4-2 in the third period. They were going to make me some money! And then this happened:

I fucking hate Esa Tikkanen. After that, it was pretty much over. Not even Kolzig’s 55 saves could stop the Wings. The Caps then rolled over meekly in Games 3 and 4, giving the Wings a sweep and Stevie Y the Conn Smythe.

Back to the present. What makes the Caps special in 2007-08?

Alexander Ovechkin. You heard it here first: He will score many goals.

Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin. If you haven’t watched a game broadcast by Joe B. and “Locker,” you haven’t really watched a hockey game (on Comcast SportsNet). Joe is a genuinely, if occasionally usually over-the-top, enthusiastic play-by-play announcer. Laughlin is like Barry Melrose’s semi-retarded little brother (and I say that fondly). He possesses an eardrum-shredding Western Canada twang, and uses it to pepper the broadcasts with various hockey euphemisms. Players wear “lids” on their “coconuts,” and use their “twigs” to fire the “biscuit.” If it’s your first time watching, you need a Sasketchewanese-to-English translator. I give the following as a taste, their call of Ovechkin’s signature goal:

Chris Clark. The Captain. The newly-rich captain, who signed a big contract extension over the summer after a career year in scoring. Let’s see, have the Caps ever overpaid any other “gritty” player who was coming off an improbable scoring year? Oh yeah, this guy. Let’s hope Clark’s career heads in a better direction.

The new (old) colors. After a decade or so of the black-blue-and-gold unis, featuring either an eagle or a Capitol dome, the Caps have gone retro. They’re back to the good old red-white-and-blue, baby! The lettering and sweater design are a clear throwback to the classic Caps logo, seen on the puck above. This color scheme will surely restore the Caps to the glory days, when Bill Clement and Yvon Labre were leading the team to perennial fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the old Norris and Patrick Divisions.

Ted Leonsis. The Caps’ owner loves hockey. And he’s an Internet-savvy marketing genius, having been the guy who turned AOL into a household word in the 1990s. In a town like, say, Dallas or even Nashville, I have no doubt he would have turned his franchise into a Juggernaut with an enormous and devoted fan base. Alas, he bought the Caps, who play in a town where the NHL is about the seventh- or eighth-most popular sport. While living there, I came to believe that there are only about 25,000 total Caps fans, and they take turns going to the games. When the Flyers are in town, or the Pens, Rangers or Devils, visitors jerseys come very close to outnumbering all the faded Dale Hunter and Joe Juneau sweaters sported by the home faithful.

The Redskins suck. Sure, that doesn’t diminish in the least the devotion of their slavish fans. But, if they are bad enough, a few of them might stop sucking Joe Gibbs’ dick long enough to accidentally wander into the MCI Center. (As an aside, the Caps could have increased their popularity dramatically simply by switching to a burgundy-and-gold color scheme. 32.6 percent of Redskins fans would never notice that the game was being played indoors, on skates, and not on Sunday. “Who’s that guy? Ovechkin? He’s no Sonny Jurgensen.”)

No Esa Tikkanen. Did I mention that I fucking hate that guy? Well, he’s not there anymore, so the Caps at least have a shot at converting some easy empty-net tap-ins. You owe me $100, you Finnish bastard.

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7 Comments

  1. “Clement, Clement, hands of cement…..”

    Pretty sure last year, Sabres fans joined the Pens, Rangers, or Devils fans in representing more than the home team at MCI.

  2. And I get a cheap laugh that a team called the “Capitals” has zero capital letters in the Capitals portion of the logo.

    I do applaud the decision to return to the roots though.

  3. “Gotta get in tune with Sailor Moon
    ‘Cause the cartoon has got the boom anime babes
    That make me think the wrong thing”

    What? Wrong Moonie?

  4. You know, they just need to bring Dale Hunter back to get things going again.

    Nothing like a dog fight, err hockey fight at the MCI center.

  5. Ah, Telecom Merger Center. Or, as us Pens fans call it, The Vacation Igloo. Twice a year, we like to drop in, kick back, have a few beers, outnumber the home fans, and watch the boys make Kolzig look like a tired, old goalie.

  6. Meh. Pens/Sabres/Rangers. Dont think you have anything on the way the flyers overtake the arena.

    That being said, the Caps are a fun team to watch these days, and could get better…in fact I bet they finish in the top two of the SE division. Just need to hope that Olie’s legs hold him up for the entire season.

    Who’s drinking @ Rocket Bar with me before the first home game?

  7. Count me in.


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